Astaxanthin (pronounced "asta-ZAN-thin") is a naturally occurring carotenoid. Carotenoids are pigment colours that occur in nature - astaxanthin is a red pigment and is sometimes referred to as the king of the carotenoids due to its potent antioxidant activities. An antioxidant is a molecule displaying free radical scavenging activity, protecting cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage.
Thought to provide salmon with their endurance
Natural sources of astaxanthin include lobster, arctic shrimp, crab, crawfish, red trout, algae, and krill. It is found in the highest concentration in the muscles of salmon - in fact scientists theorise it is astaxanthin that is key in providing the endurance they need to swim upstream.
Provides pink seafood with its colour
In case you have ever wondered how lobsters, shrimp, and some crabs turn red when cooked it is because the astaxanthin, which is bound to the protein in the shell, becomes free as the protein comes apart. The freed pigment molecule is then available to absorb light and produce the red colour which we see as pink flesh.
A very potent antioxidant thought to help fight some diseases
The primary use for humans is as a food supplement, research indicates that it is beneficial in fighting cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and neuro-degenerative diseases.
A study in 2007 analysed several popular antioxidants and their antioxidant power. This study found astaxanthin was 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 800 times stronger than Coenzyme Q10, 550 times stronger than green tea catechins and 75 times stronger than alpha-lipoic acid.
Of particular interest in increasing athletic performance
One of the benefits of astaxanthin that is of particular interest to researchers is its ability to enhance athletic performance. Whether its an athlete or someone just interested in increasing their performance in endurance events, this carotenoid might be able to help. Astaxanthin has the ability to travel to every cell, tissue and organ in the body and aides physical performance in the following ways:
- Scavenges free radicals in energy-producing mitochondrial cells
- Decreases oxidative damage in cell membranes and DNA
- Decreases muscle inflammation
- Reduces lactic acid in muscles (a byproduct of physical exertion)
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.